Developing a Prototype
by Ryan Stauffer & AJ Stauffer, Levrack
Photo by Tyler Harris / NebraskaFarmer
Developing a product can be a daunting task. You have the idea, confident that it will work, and you have nothing left to do but build a prototype. That’s where we were 15 months ago. The idea for Levrack seemed simple, but converting that idea into a tangible thing was a process that helped shape our product and our business into what it is today. Here are a few things that we learned along the way.
1. Remember it doesn’t have to be pretty. Sometimes the most difficult part of building a prototype is simply starting. Not worrying about the cosmetics, but focusing on the function of your product. In our case it was amateur weld jobs and the use of bailing wire among other things, to create a smooth rolling shelving unit. It didn’t look great, but it helped us refine our idea. It has to exist before you can make it better!
2. Access to resources is important. Resources can mean a lot of different things, from tools to time to simply a place to build out your idea. We were lucky enough to start our manufacturing process in our farm shop. We had access to a welder and ample space to build our prototype. In addition to a great place to work, 3D modeling software was also crucial to our design and refinement, saving us hours upon hours of trial and error. Prototypes are going to be expensive no matter what you’re building, so anything you can do to keep your costs down is extremely beneficial.
3. Find a focus group. Find a group of peers or people that are likely to use your product and include them in your process. This came pretty easy for us. We constantly had potential users (seed and chemical dealers, machinery salesmen, etc.) in and out of our workspace. They served as our focus group, giving us ideas to improve the product and some eventually even tested units in their own work environments.
- 4. The “prototype mindset” should never stop. The biggest challenge for us was trying to decide when our product was ready to take to market. We had refined it to the point where we felt comfortable ordering a first run of inventory and sent it out the door to the first batch of paying customers. They loved it but we weren’t completely satisfied with our design. Within 3 months we made some significant changes that didn’t affect functionality but were more cost effective and flat out just looked better.
Even now, we’re still looking at ways we can make our product more affordable and more user-friendly to people not only in agriculture but also in commercial, industrial, and residential applications. That being said, the evolution of your product should never stop.
Ryan Stauffer & AJ Stauffer are the co-founders of Levrack, a system to create efficient storage in farm shops. Levrack competed in the Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge and won the People's Choice award.